After disappointing 2022, Western Michigan (12-2) rediscovered its mojo abroad

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WMU coach Colleen Munson

There was disappointment. There have been tears. There have been quite a lot of questions.

How did we get right here? How did we let this occur?

That’s how the 2022 season ended for Western Michigan. A program accustomed to a certain quantity of success below coach Colleen Munson — 9 20-win seasons and 4 NCAA Tournaments — was on the skin wanting in on the Mid-American Convention event.

The 9-9 end within the MAC Western Division was robust sufficient to swallow, but it surely was much more tough for the Broncos realizing they dropped 5 five-set convention matches. The final two have been the deal-breakers: Again-to-back 3-2 losses to Central Michigan in mid-November.

“We discovered other ways to lose,” mentioned Munson, now in her nineteenth season at WMU.

So how may they make 2023 totally different?

One of many first questions Munson acquired from her gamers was: Who’s coming in for subsequent season? The coach’s reply in all probability was jarring: nobody.

“We have now all the pieces it takes proper right here,” Munson advised her gamers. “We have now it, and we now have to develop it, and that’s on me. Everybody desires, nowadays, who’s within the switch portal? Who can come from X, Y, Z college? Can we get a world recruit? No. We have now it in-house.”

Practically a 12 months later, the Broncos look nothing just like the workforce that limped down the stretch final fall. They’re 12-2, which features a sweep of Michigan and a four-set win over Wake Forest — and opened final weekend with back-to-back victories at Miami, Ohio.

An even bigger problem awaits when MAC energy Bowling Inexperienced visits Kalamazoo on Thursday and Friday nights.

“Nobody provides you confidence,” Munson mentioned. “They step on the court docket, and that’s their selection … They made a selection and a choice to not return to the place they have been a 12 months in the past.”

To rediscover their recreation, the Broncos needed to go midway world wide.

Throughout the offseason, Western Michigan was due for its abroad journey the NCAA permits each 5 years. The Broncos went to Venice and Milan in Italy and Istanbul in Türkiye to face varied golf equipment and nationwide groups.

The Broncos in Istanbul

The competitors a university workforce faces, Munson defined, is organized based mostly on their RPI from the earlier season. So with the Broncos ending out of their convention event, they got “simpler” competitors to begin.

However after they tied their first opponent — Munson mentioned the opposite workforce didn’t wish to play a fifth set — Tim Kelly, a former UCLA participant who organized the journey by way of his Convey It Promotions firm, was impressed.

“Oh my gosh,” Munson mentioned, repeating Kelly’s phrases, “you’re not lining up together with your RPI from final 12 months.”

From there, the Broncos have been put up in opposition to higher groups. And beat all of them.

Munson mentioned the success in Europe had nothing to do with any schematic modifications she made. She left the X’s and O’s alone. What modified, she mentioned, was the gamers’ mentality.

“Issues change from daily,” mentioned fifth-year exterior hitter Maggie King, a three-time All-MAC first-teamer. “Groups get pulled in each which path, so we have been simply sort of prepared for something, and that in itself was a psychological problem as a result of we didn’t have a scout or something.

“However I believe that was truthfully nice for us, and it allow us to play free … and we performed very cohesively.

“A part of the psychological aspect is overthinking, and I believe we did that quite a bit final 12 months. Once you don’t know what to anticipate, you may’t overthink. There’s nothing you may take into consideration. … If you happen to get overconsumed with the scout, they you don’t play your personal recreation.”

Western Michigan setter Logan Case/WMU photograph

Senior setter Logan Case, who has performed with King for 11 years going again to their time with Elevation Volleyball Membership in Ohio, concurred. The spontaneous nature of the matches in Europe unlocked a treasure trove of resolve the Broncos didn’t know that they had.

“All we now have is our personal workforce and our personal system of volleyball to play with,” she mentioned. “It doesn’t matter what they (opponents) do. We don’t have time to determine it out. We are able to’t scout them. Let’s go on the market, put our greatest on the market and see if it really works.

“We have been on our ft all day for eight hours of purchasing, sight-seeing, studying various things. On a ship, on a aircraft, no matter it was, then we needed to go play a volleyball recreation. I believe everybody thinks, ‘Oh, I must get this meals in and this warmup in and I must have this recreation routine.’ And right here, we simply sort of acquired thrown into conditions in opposition to actually good opponents.

“Simply having to go play volleyball on the spot was actually enormous for surpassing that psychological barrier of what we predict we have to play a very good recreation of volleyball.”

So that they introduced that mentality again to the States, and, Munson mentioned, followers and relations who watched the workforce’s early matches didn’t acknowledge them. The change was that evident.

And it wasn’t simply how the Broncos have been enjoying. It was who was making the performs.

Over the previous couple of seasons, the workforce had come to rely closely on King in essential moments. As a rule, she delivered. Downside was, all people else within the health club knew King was getting the ball in these moments.

The end result, Munson mentioned, was King getting 60 to 70 swings each match, and the Broncos began to turn out to be predictable. That led to the opposite huge change from final season: give King some assist.

Case admitted among the blame fell to her. Due to her longstanding relationship with King, it was solely pure to search for her when a ball wanted to be put down.

Now, the Broncos’ assault is way more diversified. King isn’t even main the workforce in kills per set. That distinction belongs to Keona Salesman, a 6-foot-1 exterior from Coldwater, Mich., who spent her first two seasons at Division II Ferris State. The senior has 171 kills (3.64/set) and is hitting .327.

Salesman was the MAC West offensive participant of the week in every of the primary three weeks this season.

King, a graduate scholar from Cincinnati, has 159 kills (3.46/set) and  Anna Calcagno, a senior from St. Charles, Illinois, has 143. Calcagno, who transferred after two seasons at Marshall, leads the Broncos with 41 blocks, 5 solo.

“Now (King) is enjoying a recreation that she will be able to play along with her teammates,” Munson mentioned, “not 1 v. 6 throughout the online.”

Added Case, additionally a three-time All-MAC first-teamer from Maineville, Ohio: “That’s been enormous for Maggie’s psychological recreation and mine as nicely. I believe prior to now we relied on Maggie to be that individual to get us out of any sort of hassle, and I believe she sort of had a whole lot of weight on her again.

“Individuals have actually began to step up, and she will be able to play her personal recreation and never really feel like she has the load of the world on her shoulders to win each recreation and win each level and be that individual on the level of stress.”

King mentioned Salesman’s model is a pleasant complement to her personal. Whereas King, at solely 5-10, has to rely extra on shot-making than physicality to get kills, the athletic Salesman hits aggressively and at the next level, so defenses can’t attempt to block them the identical method.

Case, in the meantime, has developed the identical sort of confidence in Salesman that she has in King.

“I can throw any ball at (her). I can set (her) any ball – in system, out of system, simply sort of an emergency ball – and she or he’s going to discover a method to get a kill or no less than get the opposite workforce in hassle,” Case mentioned.

Sophomore center Mary Clare “MC” Brusek contributes 1.95 kills per set, and fellow sophomore center Amanda Glanton – at 6-3 the Broncos’ tallest participant – averages 1.30 kills per set whereas hitting at a ridiculous .479 clip.

After all, King continues to be doing her factor, averaging 3.43 kills per set.

“I needed to turn out to be extra unpredictable,” she mentioned. “I noticed I wanted to construct my toolbox of photographs, and that’s what I actually tried to do throughout the offseason. As a result of I don’t hit at a excessive level’ I’m engaged on different issues.

“I believe that has allowed me to turn out to be a extra aggressive participant. Not essentially one which’s hitting the ball straight to the bottom on a regular basis however simply that stays in performs and will get the opposite aspect out of system.”

Munson mentioned she usually goes with a middle-blocker-by-committee method, sticking with whomever appears to have the recent hand that day.

Then there’s libero Andelyn “Andy” Simkins. She’s the key weapon who may not stay a secret for much longer. The 5-10 senior from Schoolcraft, Michigan, is stellar in serve obtain and averages 4.45 digs per set.

Andelyn Simkins

Simkins got here to Western Michigan as an outdoor hitter, however, Munson mentioned, accidents led to a change in place.

“She saved getting damage as a result of she performs each level so aggressively,” Munson mentioned. “At her top and her measurement, each rep needed to be at her max due to the block that was in entrance of her.”

Lastly, Munson mentioned she approached Simkins with the concept of transferring to libero. Simkins was thrilled, and she or he has thrived within the place. Her size allows her to cowl a whole lot of floor, and, Munson mentioned, she is strong in her method.

“Andy is by far the very best libero, serve-receive smart, that we’ve ever seen,” Munson mentioned. “A buddy of mine who commentates for Auburn and Georgia Tech and Clemson noticed us play (final) weekend and mentioned, ‘You’re the finest libero I’ve ever seen. You should have an expert profession since you are that good.’ ”

Added King: “She’s lastly beginning to get the popularity that she deserves. She’s sort of a quiet participant. Not quiet within the sense of speaking, however you don’t actually acknowledge the affect she has till you notice (the opponent) can’t hit the ball to the bottom as a result of Andy is getting all the pieces up.

“She’s the toughest employee on the workforce by far. She is going to by no means take her foot off the gasoline pedal.”

The Broncos haven’t let up on the gasoline themselves by way of their nonconference schedule. However how does all that translate into the MAC?

Although not a Energy 5 convention, the MAC, Munson mentioned, is acknowledged as being a intently contested league the place the separation between groups is razor-thin. Ball State and Bowling Inexperienced are NCAA regulars, however not with out having to win some battles in their very own convention.

Successful the convention and qualifying for the NCAA Event are the objectives. It began final fall with these devastating losses.

“We have been like, ‘Championship season begins immediately,’ ” King mentioned. “I believe all of us actually took possession of that, to do what we would have liked to do individually to return again within the spring and actually get to work on the issues groups have been exposing us on.

“Final 12 months we had a very good preseason, however as soon as convention play began, it actually dipped down. And I actually don’t foresee that taking place this 12 months.”

Added Case: “We’ve tirelessly labored at our imaginative and prescient, our mission and what we would like our season to appear like. I believe this 12 months, we lastly have been like, ‘Guys, aren’t we actually sick of not being the workforce that’s on high?’

“That’s on our board at follow: MAC champion. We have now our sights set on internet hosting the event and crushing it and getting an NCAA Event berth.”



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